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PM returns from French Guiana and pledges to Negate the Neglect!

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Friday, January 28, 2005 - Prime Minister Dr Kenny D. Anthony on Thursday returned to St. Lucia following a three-day visit to French Guiana, promising to develop closer ties aimed at ending the isolation of St. Lucians in the distant French territory.

Prime Minister Anthony, who was accompanied by External Affairs Minister Senator Petrus Compton and Consul General to the French Antilles Mr Cass Elias, met with the main leaders of the political and administrative structures in the French Overseas Department and also held several meetings with St. Lucians in various communities across the territory, which is located on the north-western shoulder of South America.

Dr Anthony and his delegation held major discussions with the President of the Regional Council Mr Antoine Karram, as well as with the President of the General Council Mr Pierre Desert and Mayor of Cayenne Jean Claude La Fontaine, on issues ranging from strengthening of ties with St. Lucian communities to cooperation and exchanges in such fields as business, culture and sports.

Regional Council President Karram, whose grandmother hails from Vieux Fort, noted that this was the fist visit to French Guiana by a St. Lucian Prime Minister. He said his countrymen appreciated the role of St. Lucians who, “over three generations, worked hard and sacrificed tremendously to help build the territory.”

He said “St. Lucia and French Guiana share several cultural ties that include the Kweyol language, Carnival and Jazz Festivals, all of which opened up avenues for closer cooperation.”

An avid footballer, President Karram also suggested sports exchanges between St. Lucia and French Guiana, “beginning with a visit to St. Lucia by a team from Cayenne in the not too distant future.”

In the case of General Council President Desert (whose wife is St. Lucian and whose daughter is also married to a prominent Vieux Fort businessman) said there was much interest among French Guianese business persons in exporting lumber and wood-related products to St. Lucia, as well as in development of tourism and cultural exchanges.

He said many St. Lucians experienced difficulties in accessing birth certificates and other relevant immigration documents from St. Lucia and welcomed the appointment of the Consul General in Martinique with responsibility for the French Antilles as a first step towards addressing those needs.

President Desert said St. Lucians were among his staff and Councillors and they worked hard and continued to identify with their land of birth or origin of their parents in a way that attracted the appreciation and praise of French Guianese. Said Monsieur Desert: “I love St. Lucians; I married one and so did my daughter.”

The Mayor of Cayenne (capital of French Guiana), who PM Anthony also met on the first day of his visit, said he was “very pleased to have the honour of welcoming a Prime Minister of an independent nation to this municipality; and more so because it is the Prime Minister of St. Lucia.” He said it was “a great honour” for him and his Councillors.

The Mayor said St. Lucians in respected French Guiana “carry themselves with respect and contribute to its growth, but they also maintain a great pride in St. Lucia, which they always consider their home.”

Mayor Lafontaine, whose office coordinates the three-year-old Cayenne Jazz Festival and the territory’s annual Carnival (Touloulou) said he wished to develop closer ties between his municipal body and St. Lucia’s Cultural Development Foundation (CDF).

To this end, a representative of the CDF, Mrs Barbara DuBoulay, who was also a member of the Prime Minister’s delegation, held meetings with the municipality’s director of cultural affairs and other Carnival organizers, with a view to ensuring participation by groups from Cayenne in St. Lucia’s upcoming Carnival 2005 in July.

The Mayor’s office also indicated interest in learning lessons from St. Lucia’s experience with its annual Jazz Festival and said they would send representatives to attend and observe the 14th St. Lucia Jazz Festival in May.

Mayor Lafontaine identified cooperation in development and promotion of Kweyol as another area of interest for his municipality. He noted that there are five variations of the Kweyol language spoken in French Guiana. Apart from the indigenous Guianese Kweyol, he noted those spoken by immigrants from Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe, Dominica and St. Lucia.

To this end, he said, “St. Lucia’s experience in promoting the Kweyol Language and in organizing Jounen Kweyol activities could be very helpful to the efforts of French Guianese to unify the languages that are being promoted separately by groups of different national origins.”

The Prime Minister’s delegation also met with ACREDEG, an association of representatives of commercial, industrial, agricultural, tourism, fishing, timber, construction and gold mining interests, who expressed interest in exploring avenues for the development of commercial ties and investment possibilities in St. Lucia.

The Guianese commercial and private sector representatives noted that direct trade opportunities with St. Lucia were hampered by the cost and transit problems associated with transportation, but also expressed an interest in exploring how commercial ties could be could be developed.

To this end, the ACREDEG indicated that a delegation representing the Guianese timber industry will be visiting St. Lucia in March to explore avenues for business. They also indicated they will send a separate and larger delegation to Castries later to explore wider opportunities for joint investment.

There was some pessimism and scepticism expressed on the part of the Guianese business leaders about the likelihood of and possibilities of developing direct commercial and business ties between French Guiana and St. Lucia, citing distance, competition from neighbouring Brazil and other factors.

However, the Prime Minister indicated that the French Government had opened the way for closer contact by generously relaxing the requirements for visas for travel by St. Lucians to the French Antilles.

He said since then, direct contact between Martinique and St. Lucia has multiplied and resulted in thriving cross-channel business for commercial interests in both islands, as well as increased tourism flows both ways.

St. Lucia’s experience with Martinique, the PM said, indicated that “where there’s a will to do business, once pursued in the right way and with the right spirit, it can happen.”

Prime Minister Anthony held two very lively and well attended meetings with large groupings of St. Lucians in Cayenne, during which they welcomed him and his delegation with cultural performances.

The St. Lucians explained what some of their problems were. Among those identified were Customs and Immigration regulations and lengthy in-transit stays in Martinique whenever they visited St. Lucia. Others identified property inheritance in the absence of the relevant documentation, while some recommended a series of student exchanges to help better inform the younger generation of the historic ties between the two countries.

There was also a proposal for the establishment of a Maison de Ste Lucie (St. Lucia House) in Cayenne, to better inform St. Lucian descendants about the history and culture of their land of origin.

The Prime Minister, who updated the St. Lucians in Cayenne on developments back home, assured them that after his visit, they “will no longer feel neglected” as the Government of St. Lucia would ensure they were served by the Consulate General in Martinique. He also steps would continue towards appointment of a complementary resident Honorary Consul in Cayenne to attend to their immediate needs.

The Prime Minister said he appreciated “how St. Lucians live with honour, pride and dignity in a land that is not their own” and he was also “encouraged by the level of appreciation for their contribution to Cayenne’s development as expressed generally by the people of French Guiana.”

After being treated to special cultural performances that featured musicians of St. Lucian origin playing songs of La Rose and La Marguerite, the Prime Minister said he was “quite pleased that they also celebrate Independence and other national holidays, play cricket and in several other ways maintain contact with their St. Lucian roots.”

During a visit to the Central Market in Cayenne, accompanied by the President of the Regional Council and the Mayor of Cayenne, Prime Minister Anthony met several St. Lucians who were engaged in agricultural and livestock industries and who provided services of various types on Market Day.

A highlight of the Prime Minister’s visit to French Guiana was a specially guided tour of the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, from where European satellites are launched into space and where St. Lucians are also employed.

The PM and his delegation were allowed privileged access to the launch pad, the control centre and the location where the Arianne 5 rocket is being constructed in staged and prepared for launching next month.

Dr Anthony was taken from Kourou on a visit to the tiny land-locked village of Saul, which is based in the centre of French Guiana, and which, along with neighbouring Saint Elie, are mining communities originally founded by St. Lucian miners in the last century.

On his return home, Prime Minister Anthony said he saw the visit as “the beginning of the end of the isolation of the St. Lucian community in French Guiana.” He said the St. Lucia Government was also “ready and willing to work with the French Government and the local administrative authorities to examine areas in which mutually beneficial commercial, cultural and sporting links could be developed for further friendship and cooperation, in the interest of all.”

He said he felt comfortable his visit had “opened the way for closer cooperation and negating the neglect of the past.”

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